2014 January

Weatherman by Dead Sara

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“Weatherman” is a great song and was a good choice for a single – it showcases a lot of the strengths of the band. The soaring guitar riffs, the way the music pulls back to showcase the vocal parts, and Armstrong again really shows off her vocal abilities. The song is extremely catchy, and the guitar riff and chorus have a way of burrowing into your brain and not leaving.

Lemon Scent by Dead Sara

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Dead Sara is a 4 member band out of LA led by singer/guitarist Emily Armstrong and guitarist Siouxsie Medley. Rounding out the band are drummer Sean Friday and bass player Chris Null. They released an EP back in ’08 and then spent a lot of time touring and growing a fan base. Vocalist Emily Armstrong has an astounding voice for rock music, and she was recognized by Grace Slick who talked her up on several different occasions and Courtney Love who had her sing background vocals on her last Hole album. Last spring, Dead Sara released their S/T debut album. I just heard this band for the first time this week, but their single “Weatherman” was pretty popular this past year. It is unusual to find a band that sounds this powerful with a female guitarist and vocalist. Armstrong’s vocals really stand out throughout the album, whether she’s wailing her head off during a guitar-driven song or dialing it back during a down-tempo song. The whole album is catchy; I particularly like the harder songs with the blazing guitar riffs and Armstrong’s passionate vocals. If I was in a lab trying to create the perfect female rock vocals, I’d be ecstatic if I ended up creating Armstrong’s voice. The band is opening for Muse on parts of their current tour.

I chose “Lemon Scent” because I really liked how Armstrong sings along with the guitar at the beginning of the song. Then she immediately starts belting it out even harder right away on the chorus. The urgency and passion driving this song are at a very high intensity. Later the song gets taken down a notch, which only helps set-up the explosive finale over the final 45 seconds.

The Body by Burning Love

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“The Body” coincidentally also clocks in at 3:30. There’s no need for a gradual build at the beginning of the song, it just takes off like a pistol with the vocals kicking in after the first second. This song flies along like an out of control locomotive about to derail but manages to stay on the tracks all the way to the end. I particularly like the guitar part at about the 2:30 mark, and then after when vocalist Chris Colohan starts singing right on the riff. They continue to build off each other right up until the band closes the song out. Plus, great lyrics on this track and throughout the album. Dark, but well thought out.

12:31 by Burning Love

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– This hardcore punk band hailing from Toronto released their debut album in 2010 – “Songs For Burning Lovers”. For their second album “Rotten Thing To Say” which came out last year, they worked with uber-producer Kurt Ballou, who is one of my favorite producers. He’s worked on a lot of great albums and always manages to capture the intensity of the music, ensuring it sounds vibrant and in your face. These guys are in your face and definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, hardcore never is. But these guys do lock into some heavy grooves and actually show some hint of melodies within their songs. And it’s all done with massive amounts of attitude. This is not background music. Ballou does a great job with this band. The first track “12:31” is an instrumental and rocks along so confidently it doesn’t need any lyrics to accompany the music. It’s also one of the longest songs on the album at just under 3:30.

Ch-Check It Out by MCA

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The lead-off track from their love letter album to NY – “To The 5 Boroughs”, this showcases their rapping ability and has some classic MCA lines including “Don’t test me, they can’t arrest me, I’ll fake right, cross-over and shoot lefty”. The track features just a few great samples, including a great drum beat. But there’s very little going on in the background during the verses, letting their vocal stylings and words stand on their own.
This Clip is a live performance of them performing the song on AOL Sessions:

Another live performance, this time on Letterman that goes from the streets of NY into the Ed Sullivan Theater while the show is taping:

Shazam! by MCA

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Track 11 from “To The 5 Boroughs”, the album the Beasties put out after 9/11. This is a more simple rap song, built around a big funky bass beat and an old sample from Kool and the Gang. Simple beats to complement their rhymes. MCA highlight includes “I’d like a lettuce, tomato and Muenster on rye, All this cheese is going to make me cry, Gorgonzola, Provolone, Don’t even get me started on the microphone”.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8-mAGS-o9o

So What’cha Want by MCA

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Track #7 from “Check Your Head”. This track features a sample from Led Zeppelin, as well as Big Daddy Kane and Soutside Movement. The video was directed by MCA, and it was pretty cutting edge for it’s time visually. Some of the things I love about this song include the drums (thanks John Bonham), the distortion on the vocals, the great guitar line between verses, the funky keyboard, the effective use of sampling and just some of the word interplay throughout the song. What makes the song great is how all of this works so well together to make a great piece of music.

Gratitude by MCA

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This is the 4th track from one of my favorite albums by anyone – “Check Your Head”. MCA is playing the fuzzed out bass that sets the tone for track. Notice the huge difference in sound, as the band starting leaning back on its punk rock roots on this album. What is so great about this album is how diverse it is, so many musical styles, yet the tracks still flow smoothly from one song to the next. It also featured the guys playing some of their own instruments and music instead of just sampling like they had been previously. This added a lot more depth throughout the album. This song isn’t so much about the lyrics, it’s all about the music.

The Sounds of Science by MCA

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This week I’m doing a mini-tribute to MCA, whose death last year came fresh to mind again when I was watching the Grammys award show. I don’t care about the Grammy awards themselves, but there were some good live performances on the show. In addition to the tribute of music industry personnel who passed away in 2012, MCA also got a shout out at the end of the show during a performance put on by LL Cool J, Chuck D (rapper Public Enemy), Tom Morello (guitarist Rage Against the Machine), DJ Z-Trip and Travis Barker (drummer Blink 182). That was a great performance by the way, you should search it out somewhere online. It’s hard to come by.

MCA was one of the three Beastie Boys, aka Adam Yauch. I’ve always loved the Beastie Boys from the very beginning. One of my favorite recording artists of all time. MCA passed away after a 3 year battle with salivary gland cancer back in May last year. Over the past 27 years, the Beastie Boys recorded many memorable songs and albums. If you’re not that familiar with the Beastie Boys or MCA, you should go do some research about both online. There is much about them you probably weren’t aware of, and they were hugely influential in the music industry. Even if you don’t think you like the Beastie Boys, give each of the songs I feature here a chance before dismissing them.

RIP MCA.

From their epic 2nd album “Paul’s Boutique”. This album initially didn’t sell well, and was considered a commercial disappointment by their record label after the massive success of their debut album “Licensed To Ill”. The band wanted to move away from the style and image they exploited on their debut album. While it was hugely successful, it was an innaccurate representation of what the band was about. Unfortunately, the image of the Beastie Boys from “Licensed To Ill” is the only one that many people have of them. “Paul’s Boutique” was highly diverse both in sonics, style and the massive use of multi-layered sampling the band used, along with the production credits attributed to the Dust Brothers. This album is now universally recognized as a landmark album in hip hop. “The Sounds of Science” features multiple samples from the Beatles (4 different songs), James Brown, Pato Banton, Isaac Hayes and Boogie Down Productions. Listen the whole way through the track because it takes a very different turn midway through and the second part is the best part. Pay close attention to the lyrics, they’re always entertaining. I can’t even begin to list my favorite phrases.